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Future of storied Bukharian synagogue uncertain

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A real estate dispute in Rego Park has left the future of one of the Bukharian community’s largest synagogues hanging in the balance.

Queens-based developer RJ Capital Holdings is planning to construct an office building on Queens Boulevard that would displace the Ohr Natan Synagogue, which serves hundreds of families and reaches thousands globally with its monthly magazine.

As Central Queens undergoes a residential boom, the loss of the synagogue would mark a new phase in a rapidly changing neighborhood.

Founded in 1986, Ohr Natan, is widely considered a focal point of Bukharian life in Queens.

“Ohr Natan can bring 400 people on sabbath and a lot of synagogues would envy that tremendous­ly,” said Cynthia Zalinsky, executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council.

“It would be a disaster to have a place that is that vital close,” she said.

RJ Capital purchased the building, located at 66th Avenue and Queens Boulevard,which had been home to the Trylon Theatre up until 1999, along with the four other properties on the block for $9 million in 2013.

The congregation, led by Rabbi Nahum Kaziev, offers a full plate of after-school programs, adult education (including ESL) and food distribution.

“From survivors of the Holocaust, to survivors of the Gulags, to those who couldn’t practice their Judaism in their home country, this is going to be a huge loss,” Kaziev said. “There is no question.”

Since 1991, Ohr Natan has published Druzhba, a monthly magazine with a readership of 80,000 throughout the five boroughs.

“As a synagogue they are a huge part of the community,” said Manashe Khaimov, a member of the Bukharian community who has prayed at Ohr Natan. “As a magazine, they’re on a global level. Everybody reads it.’

The bad blood between the congregation and the developer isn’t new.

In 2014, A Queens civil judge dismissed a lawsuit by RJ Capital Holdings to evict the congregation from the building, based on charges of non-payment of rent.

A representative from the development firm, who is also a member of the Bukharian community, said the importance of the synagogue has been inflated, calling it “propaganda,” and speculated that the space may be a “cash-cow”.

The representative, who did not want to provide his name, said that if the development gets built, a first-floor synagogue will be included. He could not specify how big the space would be.

“We need this community to stay whole,” the representative said.

Kaziev, however, said he was not aware of such plans and that the financial situation for the congregation had become dire.

“Whatever we had some years ago, we invested it all in renovating the current Ohr Natan building. For us now to look for a new space, it’s a lot of money that we cannot afford. We’re on our own, and we don’t have any help.”

“At this point we don’t see anything,” he said.

“But things can change, sometimes there are miracles.”

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

Posted 12:00 am, March 25, 2016
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